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Alice Barnett (17 May 1846 – 14 April 1901) was an English singer and actress, best known for her performances in contralto roles of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.

Barnett originated several of the early Gilbert and Sullivan "formidable middle-aged ladies", namely Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Lady Jane in Patience (1881) and the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe (1882). She continued to perform in comic opera and other musical theatre roles after these until 1900.

Life and career

Alice Barnett was born in Londonmarker and was trained as a concert singer.

D'Oyly Carte years

In 1879, Barnett joined Richard D'Oyly Carte's touring Comedy Opera Company as Little Buttercup in H.M.S. Pinafore. She traveled with W. S. Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan and Carte to New Yorkmarker to create the role of Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance on 31 December 1879, after first playing Buttercup in performances there. She played Ruth throughout the American tour and continued to play the role at the Opera Comiquemarker when the company returned to London in July 1880.

Barnett created the next two Gilbert and Sullivan contralto roles, Lady Jane in Patience in 1881 and the Queen of the Fairies in Iolanthe in 1882. Gilbert wrote these formidable characters with Barnett's imposing physical presence in mind. The reviewer Louis Engel described her as "...the successful violoncello-player of Patience, who measures 5 feet 10½ inches, and is most proportionately built." The review of Iolanthe in The London Figaro said that Barnett, "a fairy queen of Brobdingnagian proportions, who 'nestles in a nutshell and gambols on gossamer,' invested her part with all the broad humour necessary without overdoing it." In 1883, however, Barnett became ill and was replaced by Rosina Brandram in the principal contralto roles at the Savoy. When Barnett regained her health, she played the contralto roles in D'Oyly Carte touring companies in 1884, before leaving the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company at the end of that year.

Peripatetic Performer

Later in 1884, Barnett appeared with Lillian Russell in Sydney Grundy and Edward Solomon's Pocahontas at the Empire Theatremarker in London. She then travelled to America with Russell in 1885, where she played roles in Billee Taylor, Claude Duval and Polly (all with music by Solomon). She then moved to Australia, where she spent three years, from 1885 to 1888, playing the Gilbert and Sullivan contralto roles (Lady Sangazure in The Sorcerer, Ruth, Jane, the Queen of the Fairies, Lady Blanche in Princess Ida, and Katisha in The Mikado) with J. C. Williamson's opera company, as well as other parts such as Mrs. Privett in Alfred Cellier's Dorothy, with Leonora Braham in the title role.

In 1889, Barnett returned to London, appearing in Cellier's Doris, before touring in British provinces in Gaietymarker burlesques and with other opera companies. She finally returned to London in 1894 to create the role of Dame Cortlandt in W. S. Gilbert and Osmond Carr's His Excellency. After another brief run at the Gaietymarker, in The Shop Girl, Barnett again travelled to America, where she toured in His Excellency with George Edwardes' Lyric Company.

In 1896, Barnett returned to England to tour in The Telephone Girl and then back to America for DeKoven and Smith's The Mandarin, and, in 1897 again on tour in England with The Telephone Girl. She continued to perform in comic opera and pantomime in London and the provinces until 1900, when she retired from the stage.

She died in London the following year of bronchial pneumonia following an operation.


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